I am a firm believer that our lives our like stories. We tend to embody the story that we see ourselves in. In other words, we tend to dress, live in homes, and drive cars that fit our story about ourselves. We see this in people who are really depressed. Often they do not take care of themselves. They are disheveled and unkempt. They don’t shower as much or pick up after themselves. As people get healthy and come out of depression they tend to physically look healthier.
Our appearance not only reflects how we feel but it can also change how we feel. If we are feeling down, we can dress up. Or if we need to relax we can put on comfortable clothes. If people want to get in shape they often go out and buy athletic clothing. This is not only important for exercise, it also helps us play the part we are wanting to play in the story of us being physically fit.
When I look at many of our church buildings, I see that they perfectly reflect how many churches feel. The buildings look depressed and broken down. They often smell funny and have firmly established cobwebs and decade old dust piles. There is junk piled not just in every closet but in every corner and on every shelf. The front of the sanctuary is so cluttered that it shouts out—“We are disorganized and random.”
The effect for fancy churches can be just as troubling. These churches can tell the story that we think we are important and we care a lot about people’s opinion. The resulting insight is that only people who are wealthy and clean can come here.
You may not realize or think about the story your building is telling, but your visitors will. So it is time to get intentional about your buildings.
- Your building can give you clues about how your congregation feels about itself. Try to look around your church property and ask what story your building is telling. This might give you insights into where your church is struggling. Is the nursery dirty? Are offices neglected? Or is everything in need of help?
- Your building can help teach people to care about visitors (or not). I am a firm believer that the church exists primarily for the people that are not there. Your building can get in the way of that, or you can use the building to help create that value. Ask your people to start thinking about the building from the perspective of someone who does not already go there. This can help people be aware of the world.
- Your building can help change how people feel about themselves. Just like dressing up can make you feel better, changing your property can make your church feel different. Can you clean things up? Paint? Add some banners to plain walls? Any little thing can built momentum for your church.
- Your building can improve (or hurt) your ministry. For example, well over half of communication is non-verbal. Clutter communicates that we are disorganized, unclean, and unprofessional. If you declutter the front of your sanctuary your music and preaching will probably sound better and be well received just because people can and will pay more attention. Also, do you have a social hall that an outside organization or ministry would want to meet in? Could improving your meeting space help create partnerships in your community?
One other areas that I see churches hurt themselves in the area of temperature. Many churches, to save money, try to use the temperature controls as little as possible. That means that the church is freezing cold in the winter and roasting hot in the summer. This is a mistake. It tells the story that your church is cheap and unwelcoming. It may save you some money immediately, but it also costs you money. What people will end up doing is avoiding coming to church when it is too hot or too cold. When people miss church, they often do not make up their giving later. That means that you are costing yourself attendance and giving in order to save a few bucks. Turn your heat up in the winter. Put in window air conditioners or good fans in the summer. Tell the story that you care about the people more than the dollars. It will pay off for you.
In the last year at my church we have done a lot of little things to make our building look better. A new roof and a new boiler was costly, but most of the other things we did cost little to no money. We added banners, had some cleaning days, got rid of a lot of stuff, added window air conditioners, and did some painting. I have been surprised how much these little things have impacted the feel of our church. What might you be able to try?